The Dixie Dregs deliver a musical sound all their own. Its hybrid brand of jazz-rock fusion leans more toward the rock ‘n’ roll esthetic with elements of southern rock, pop, prog rock, country, folk and even some classical orchestration thrown in for good measure.
The group was first formed in Georgia in the 1970s, as Dixie Grit when Steve Morse (guitar) and Andy West (bass) got together during their high school years. During their time at the University of Miami School of Music, Dixie Grit morphed into the Dixie Dregs where Allen Sloan (violin) and Rod Morgenstein (drums) joined the band. The new name came about as a play on words based on the fact that Morse and West were the "dregs" of the former Dixie Grit.
In 1975, the group's first album, The Great Spectacular was self-produced and independently released. Approximately 1,000 copies of the original LP were pressed. The album was reissued in 1997 in CD form on Dregs Records. In 1977, Free Fall was released on Capricorn Records. What If (Capricorn Records) followed in 1982. Night of the Living Dregs (Caprocorn Records, 1979) received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. By 1980, the band had moved on to Arista Records and released Dregs of the Earth which also received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. With the Arista albums, Unsung Heroes (1981), for which the band changed its name to the Dregs in an effort to gain more commercial appeal, and Industry Standard (1982), the group again found themselves nominated for Grammy Awards.
Following Industry Standard, the band members decided to go their separate ways due to a number of reasons--burn-out from touring, Arista not promoting the band and subsequently dropping it from the roster and an unfortunate lack of records sales. During the ensuing years, Morse has been a member of Kansas (1985-1991) and Deep Purple (1994 to Present). He also founded the Steve Morse Band. Morgenstein was a founding member of Winger and has also worked as a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Sloan became a physician and has been working as an anesthesiologist in North Augusta, SC. Davidowski has played with a number of different bands in the NC-area and West has worked in the software industry.
Now, for the first time in 40 years, the original band--Morse, West, Sloan, Davidowski and Morgenstein are touring as the Dixie Dregs. The tour is appropriately called Dawn Of The Dregs.
On a cool mid-March evening, the Dawn Of The Dregs Tour descended upon the Paramount in Huntington, NY. Not only was the event sold-out, but audience members could be heard stating that they had driven in from other states because this was a reunion that they “could not miss.” Some audience members could be heard comparing the band to Yes but without the stern and strict lack of joy. Others were overheard mentioning the similarities of some of the songs and orchestrations to those of Emerson Lake & Palmer
The venue, which is often organized with a wide-open standing-room orchestra pit, was set-up in a half-seated configuration. There were 10 to 15 rows of seats at the front and a packed standing room section in the rear. The balcony and mezzanine seats were filled to the brim and shook from the moment the first notes were played until the last notes rung out and faded into the ether.
On this evening the band played two amazing sets. Highlights of the first set included: the first tune, “Divided We Stand,” “Free Fall,” “Twiggs Approved,” “What If,” “Country House Shuffle” (originally released on The Great Spectacular), “Moe Down” (during which the Emerson Lake and Palmer reference was heard) and the set-closing “Odyssey.”
Set Two opened with a quick soliloquy from Sloan which he followed with an amazing and heartfelt violin solo. Highlights of this set included: “Go for Baroque” and “Day 444” both of which (prior to this tour) had never been performed live, “Refried Funky Chicken” (with its power chord progression) and “Leprechaun Promenade.” The set ended with “Cruise Control” (from Free Fall) which morphed into Morgenstein’s powerful solo and back into “Cruise Control.” By the end of the song the entire audience was on its feet. The cheers and whistles were deafening.
The encore, “Bloodsucking Leeches,” sent the already over-the-moon, mostly middle-aged crowd further into the stratosphere. Even those with assigned seats remained standing and bopping to the beat as the band roared through the southern-influenced boogying tune originally released on the band’s last studio effort Industry Standard.
When the show came to an end, the fans stayed in their places cheering, clapping, whistling, coaxing and cajoling the band to return for just one more tune. It was a fitting end to the show. Many fans had traveled great distances to see the Dixie Dregs because this performance was forty years in the making with the hope that the music and its players had withstood the test of time. Fans saw it for what it was—a rare opportunity to see the classic lineup perform together. They were rewarded with a fantastic show. The band was at the height of its powers, delivering a tight, powerful and strong set that provided those in attendance with the memory of a performance that may never be duplicated again.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon